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Are publishers behind the curve when it comes to customer feedback?

Article by Gill Lambert

27th June 2018

Customer experience, Subscription management, Voice of the Customer

Are publishers behind the curve when it comes to customer feedback?

Magazine publishers have been selling content via subscription for decades, pre-dating the whole concept of the subscription economy by over 100 years.

Publishers are experienced in managing recurring revenues, measuring lifetime value and monitoring churn. Indeed, many publishers have considerable direct marketing expertise and have successfully restructured their entire business to replace advertising income with direct customer revenues.

Despite this experience and success, I can’t help feeling that new entrants within the subscription box sector are stealing a march when it comes to collecting, analysing and responding to customer feedback. Graze, for example, receive over 15,000 product ratings per hour and they use this data to proactively steer the product innovation process.

With this hypothesis in mind, I recently polled several consumer publishers to find out how customer satisfaction is reported across the business, and whether a formal feedback process exists that turns insights into actions.

The poll

The poll ran in May 2018 and received 17 responses from publishers with a combined subscription audience of over 2 million customers.

The results

  • Only 5% track NPS
  • Retention is the primary business KPI used to monitor customer satisfaction
  • 65% have no formal feedback process
  • 71% report customer satisfaction as an operational indicator linked to service delivery rather than tracking satisfaction as a strategic business KPI

Nobody can argue against retention being a key business metric but this data has an in-built time lag, whereas an opinion tracker such as Net Promotor Score provides a snapshot indicator of intent, allowing businesses to respond to any negative feedback and protect future revenues.

There are several possible reasons why customer feedback is not considered a strategic issue for most publishers. Historically, subscriptions delivered only a marginal revenue stream behind core retail and advertising revenues. Also, many publishers outsource their direct sales operations to a full-service fulfilment bureau which means that customer feedback can be fragmented and not integrated with other sources of management data.


With an effective feedback mechanism in place service-related data can be used to track supply chain quality, rescue dissatisfied customers and ultimately reduce support cost. Taking out support costs that add no value (such as calls and emails that do not result in resolution) can only have a positive impact on customer experience, brand value and margins.

But the true value in assimilating customer feedback into the business is the opportunity to drive innovation and grow revenues, and to achieve this, feedback needs to be tracked at a strategic level and an effective process introduced to turn insights into actions.

Publishers clearly recognise the value of owning customer data as a route to optimising retention and driving margin. According to a recent survey from Publishing Executive  “making audience data more actionable and monetisable” is the biggest motivation behind tech investment by publishers in 2018.

According to this report, “Publishers are hopeful that they can use the granular insights they have on their audiences as a competitive advantage…”

By including customer satisfaction along-side sales conversion, website analytics and social media activity, publishers will be much better placed to drive innovation within the subscriptions economy.